With all the technological advancements in aviation, a colorful balloon in the sky still captures our attention. Last month, Special Collections and Archives purchased a 154 year old rare title published in London in 1863. This early text compiled by Ferdinand Silas is titled “The Giant Balloon: an account of its construction and of the two ascents made by Nadar together with various Scientific Notices respecting the Screw applied to Aerial Navigation. From the French of MM. Babinet, Barral and Nadar.” This was touted as the largest balloon in the annals of aerostatics.
Inside the 63 page publication is a large folded plate of the balloon shown below:
This publication joins the intriguing resources on early ballooning and airships in our reading room, with more additions from the Smithsonian Libraries to arrive in the coming weeks. Among the cataloged materials in the reading room is this item from June 20, 1877 illustrating the excitement that balloons generated.
“Unparalleled attraction! : magnificent balloon ascension at the Soldiers’ Home, Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday, June 20, 1877” published in Dayton, Ohio in 1877 (Call number TL620. U57 1877)
The following book on ballooning is one of the earliest in our collection, published by Henry Coxwell in 1887 to share his experiences in the sky:
“My life and balloon experiences : with a supplementary chapter on military ballooning” by Henry Coxwell published in 1887 in London. (Call number TL620 .A1 C69 1887)
I’m always curious about documents that were once restricted or classified, so the following publication with a caveat at the top of “Not to be communicated to anyone outside the Royal Naval Air Service” captured my interest. Dated 1918, the text is an interesting look into the theory of ballooning put forth by officers at the Royal Naval Air Service for confidential use by the United States Army Balloon School.
“Theory of ballooning. A course of four lectures on the theory of ballooning delivered before officers at the Royal naval air station, Roehampton. Obtained from practice.” by Griffith Brewer. A 3rd edition reprint for confidential use of the United States Army balloon school published by the Government Printing Office in 1918. (Call number TL626 .B7 1918)
We have many other more recent publications on early ballooning and airships available in the reading room, as well as a several manuscript collections that contain information and images on the history of ballooning. The Levitt Luzern Custer Collection (MS-302) is one such collection. Custer was a Dayton-area aviator and inventor, and an associate of Orville Wright. During his lifetime he engaged in pioneering balloon experiments, served as an official timer for flight trials, collaborated with Orville Wright on various projects, and invented a wide range of mechanical machines from the statoscope to amusement park rides.
The Lockheed-Martin Aeronautical Patent Collection (MS-357) was developed by the Lockheed Aircraft Company to provide a single source of information concerning aviation-related patents in the United States. The collection spans a period beginning with the initial experiments with balloons in 1844 to the aviation technologies developed through 1988.
The James R. Shock Airship Collection (MS-388) covers a broad history of airships, from the late nineteenth century endeavors of American and German aviation pioneers to corporate advertising blimps of the 1990s. There is also some material pertaining to hot air balloon research and world record attempts.
We invite you to visit and get lost in the fascination of ballooning history and development here in the archives. Everyone is welcome!